The General Assembly finally filled 22 out of about 30 judicial vacancies late Wednesday night but left it to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine or circuit judges to fill seats in Hampton, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Roanoke.
The bitterest disputes were not between Republicans and Democrats but between House and Senate Republicans. Republicans have a majority in the House while Democrats control the Senate.
For example, Del. William R. Janis, R-Henrico, and Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, thought they had brokered a deal to move Henrico Circuit Judge Catherine Hammond to the State Corporation Commission and appoint attorney Mary Bennett Malveaux to Hammond’s seat.
Senate Republicans blocked the deal, however, by insisting that no judges would be appointed if Hammond remained on the list of candidates to be appointed.
Democrats and House Republicans also thought that a deal had been reached on four judgeships in Hampton, but Senate Republicans pulled the name of Kathy Gear-Owens, the sister of Hampton Republican Del. Thomas D. Gear. House Republicans responded by blocking the appointment of any judges in Hampton.
Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, told The Daily Press that he understood that Senate policy was not to elect siblings of sitting legislators.
That observation was news to Janis, chairman of the House Courts of Justice subcommittee on judicial systems, who noted that the Senate recently agreed to the appointment of the son of Del. Joseph P. Johnson Jr., D-Abingdon, to a Southwest Virginia judgeship.
“Sen. Stolle has been invoking a lot of policies, none of which have been reduced to writing,” Janis said.
He noted that Stolle has referred to a policy of having senators who live in a judicial district having control of the selection of judges there, a policy that would leave Sen. Yvonne B. Miller, D-Norfolk, out of a say in a Norfolk judgeship even though a piece of Virginia Beach is in her district.
She is blocking the appointment of Stolle’s candidate for a Virginia Beach vacancy, City Attorney Leslie L. Lilley, to a circuit court seat. Miller favors the elevation of General District Judge Gene A. Woolard.
No Republican represents Norfolk, but House Republicans are blocking the appointment of three judges to circuit court there at Stolle’s request because of the Virginia Beach impasse.
In the 23rd District, the delegation has been unable to decide between Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald S. Caldwell and Salem City Council Member J. Christopher Clemens for the general district seat held by retiring Judge Julian Raney.
Janis said Friday, “I’ve very happy this morning about the outcome,” despite the failure to elect good candidates for no good policy or political reason in some areas. “The vast majority of vacancies were filled with superlatively well qualified candidates,” he said.
He had feared the governor and circuit judges would have had to fill about 30 vacancies, a prospect that he said would have lowered the quality of candidates for the seats. Sitting judges would not have taken a chance on being kicked off the bench by taking a pro tempore appointment to a higher court, nor would lawyers have given up their practices for what could be less than a year on the bench.
Janis said any candidate for the seats that remain open, and especially the SCC vacancy, should accept a gubernatorial appointment “with their eyes wide open.… There are no guarantees they will be confirmed next year.”
Under state law, the governor fills circuit court and appellate vacancies and circuit judges are responsible for filling district court seats when the legislature is not in session. Those appointments are only effective, however, until the next session of the legislature.
The legislature reelected Court of Appeals Judges Robert J. Humphreys and Jean Harrison Clements to rectify the most embarrassing aspect of the legislative squabbling. There was no opposition to either appointment, but they were caught up in the insistence of legislative leaders on filling vacancies of statewide positions at the same time.
Humphreys’ terms expired during the infighting, and he was off the bench for eight days.
Roger L. Williams, a partner in a Richmond firm that specializes in workers’ compensation representation, was the consensus choice to fill the vacancy created by the retirement Lawrence D. Tarr, but his election was held up until Wednesday by the impasse over the SCC seat.
The other vacancies filled last week are:
• John W. Brown, a partner in the firm of Brown, Denslow, Black & Billups PC, and Marjorie T. Arrington, a deputy commonwealth’s attorney in Norfolk, for two circuit seats in Chesapeake.
• Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney W. Parker Councill for a general district seat in the Fifth Circuit.
• Marilynn C. Goss, a legal aid attorney, for a juvenile and domestic relations district seat in Richmond.
• J&DR Judge Joseph J. Ellis and General District Judge J. Overton Harris for two seats in the 15th Circuit. Patricia Kelly was appointed to Ellis’ seat, but Harris’ seat remains vacant.
• John G. Berry, a lawyer and substitute judge from Madison County, for the 16th Circuit.
• J&DR Judge Nolan B. Dawkins for a circuit vacancy and Donald M. Haddock Jr., a sole practitioner, for a general district seat in Alexandria.
• Penney S. Azcarate for a general district seat in Fairfax.
• John T. Cook, a partner in the Lynchburg firm of Caskie & Frost, for a 24th Circuit seat.
• Victor V. Ludwig, a J&DR judge in Waynesboro, for a 25th Circuit seat. The legislature elected Laura L. Dascher, an attorney in Covington, to replace Ludwig.
• Thomas J. Wilson IV, Harrisonburg attorney, for a 26th Circuit seat.
• Patrick R. Johnson, a judge of the Buchanan County combined court, for a 29th Circuit seat and Gregory S. Matney, an attorney in Tazewell, to fill Johnson’s seat.
• J&DR Judge Mary Grace O’Brien to a Prince William County Circuit Court seat and George M. DePolo, a sole practitioner and substitute judge, to replace O’Brien.